Meghan (Class of ‘01) and Aaron Spares
“It isn’t simple to start a farm, but it is definitely possible.”
With very little practical farming experience, Meghan (Class of ‘01) and Aaron Spares took a chance on the lifestyle they had always dreamed of. Not only are they first generation farmers, they are the only sheep dairy in Nova Scotia. And to top that, their farm has become home to the largest flock of purebred British Milksheep in North America, a rare breed of sheep originating from Great Britain.
Starting from scratch
Meghan and Aaron own and operate Bazel’s Place in Avondale, Hants Co., specializing in milking sheep. The milk produced is mainly sold to Blue Harbour Cheese in Halifax, with some also going to All Lathered Up Soap Company in Windsor. This year, the farm will milk nearly 70 ewes.
“Our breed is really quite special,” Meghan explains. “The British Milksheep was developed in the 1980s to provide crossing sires for commercial flocks to improve prolificacy without the burden of orphan lambs.”
Living up to the breed’s characteristics, Meghan and Aaron’s flock have a lambing rate of 280%. The breed produces enough milk to raise multiple lambs, which makes them suitable dairy sheep. Although their flock is thriving, Meghan explains that the breed was essentially extirpated in Britain during a foot and mouth viral outbreak in 2001. Fortunately, semen and embryos of British Milksheep had been exported to Canada beforehand. These exported genetics became the foundation of the breed in North America. Today, there is only one small flock of British Milksheep remaining in Britain.
After living in Britain for nearly a decade, Meghan returned to the Maritimes in 2013. Soon after, she met her now-husband Aaron, a nomadic biologist who had always loved animals. Looking to establish a permanent address and both possessing an undeniable passion for agriculture, the couple purchased their farm in 2014 when Meghan was expecting their first of two sons.
By September 2015, mere months after moving onto the property, Meghan and Aaron made the decision to buy some British Milksheep. They renovated old horse stalls to prepare for their new arrivals. Not knowing quite what to expect, the ambitious duo purchased five ewes and one ram to go through the lambing process and then decide if they wanted to continue with the adventure.
“It all just happened and I trusted it,” Meghan explains. “Aaron and I chose to do this and when we started figuring it out, everything just fell into place.”
After a successful first lambing, Meghan prepared a business plan for the sheep dairy. Not long after their decision to expand their flock, Megan and Aaron were contacted by Eric and Elisabeth Bzikot of Best Baa Farms in Ontario, the couple who they had purchased their original six sheep from. Eric and Elisabeth were downsizing and looking to sell most of their flock. By October 2016, Bazel’s Place had added 32 ewes and two rams.
“The spring of 2017 was our first lambing on a larger scale and it was the first season we milked,” Meghan explains. “In honesty, it was my goal to just keep animals alive and make sure they would, in fact, have milk. Being farmers was 100% new to both me and my husband, so expectations were not too high!”
Now, with some practical experience under their belts, Meghan and Aaron have set their expectations a little higher. They aim to have a flock of 100 ewes by 2019.
“This year, I’m more focused on the numbers and improving production to make the business add up,” Meghan laughs.
What’s in a name
Upon purchasing the property and establishing their business plan, Meghan and Aaron were torn on what to call the place. After many rejected ideas, they realized that the farm’s name had been staring them in the face the whole time.
“When we moved in, not being from the area, we were known as ‘the couple who bought Bazel’s place,’” Meghan says with a smile. “Bazel Roberts grew up on the farm and spent his entire life farming it. We realized that the farm is Bazel’s place, so why change it?”
Meghan and Aaron were ecstatic when Bazel himself gave them permission to keep his name on the farm.
“It was obvious he was well loved in the community and took pride in his life on the farm,” Meghan adds. “It was really hard for him to leave and I hope that he felt it was left in good hands. He passed away this past January, but his farm and name will live on.”
Determination and perseverance
In just four years, Meghan and Aaron completely uprooted their familiar suburban and nomadic lifestyles, respectively, and plunged headfirst into farming. While the overwhelming success of Bazel’s Place is evident, Meghan and Aaron admit that it was not easy.
“Become a farmer, lamb out 37 ewes, build a milking parlour, get a license, train the ewes to be milked while learning to use the milking equipment ourselves, put up 4,000 feet of fencing, keep 90+ lambs alive, overcome the fear of dealing with dead animals; our ‘Things-To-Do’ list seemed impossible!” Meghan laughs as she lists the things her and Aaron accomplished last spring.
But they did do it. One day at a time, with continuous commitment from family and help here and there from the local community when they needed it.
“As a sheep dairy in a cow dairy world, there are some challenges, as we must meet the same regulations as a cow dairy and access the same services,” Meghan explains. “However, we have the support necessary to work through these potential barriers, so I’m staying positive that we continue to find our place in the grand scheme.”
A privilege to live this life
Ask any farmer, the farming lifestyle is demanding and challenging. But any farmer will tell you it’s even more fulfilling. Meghan and Aaron are no different.
“I cannot think of a better way to raise my children and grow ourselves,” Meghan explains. “I’m so proud to see my boys embrace farming. When they walk into a pen of lambs and start clapping their hands to get the sheep up, you can’t help feel there is something so right about this life.”
As for Meghan and Aaron, success is not only measured in the growth of their farm. Success is measured in the growth of themselves, and overcoming challenges beyond what they ever thought they could handle. Success is supporting each other, despite imperfections and challenges.
“A farming lifestyle is very real; it’s demanding and challenging, but even more fulfilling,” Meghan admits. “It’s truly a privilege to live this life and share it with my family.”